Saturday, April 19, 2008

[A] Leading figure in Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, Jalal al-Din al-Saghier, said on Tuesday that dissolving the al-Mahdi army is Shiite Cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s responsibility, asserting that top Shiite Cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has nothing to do with this militia as al-Sadr did not consult the SIIC when he established it.

“Al-Sistani has a clear opinion in this regard; the law is the only authority in the country,” al-Saghier told Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq (VOI). “The top Shiite cleric had not been consulted in establishing al-Mahdi army, so it could not interfere in dissolving it,” he added. “Whosoever established the al-Mahdi army has to dissolve it,” he underlined. “Sayyed Muqtada al-Sadr established this army and it is only him who has to dissolve it,” he explained. “Al-Sistani asked al-Mahdi army to give in weapons to the government,” the Shiite official said.

Muqtada al-Sadr warned he could resort to canceling the freeze on his al-Mahdi army if the situation required that in order to “implement our goals and beliefs.”Mahdi Army is the military arm of the Sadrist bloc, or Iraqis loyal to Sadr. In August 2007, Sadr announced a unilateral freeze on all military operations by his army, including those against U.S. and allied forces, for six months "for restructuring purposes."Last month Sadrist officials in Baghdad and Karbala said Sadr extended the freeze on the militia's activities for six months.
Comment: Although it's unlikely that al-Sistani would get involved in the current standoff between al-Sadr and the Maliki government and its Supreme Council/Badr Corps backers, if he does ultimately side with one side over the other his credibility as an honest and balanced broker would be severely damaged and his neutrality (and safety) would be called into question. In the heady days of 2003 following the collapse of the Iraqi Ba'th, al-Sadr's often fervent followers reportedly threatened the lives of al-Sistani and other senior Shi'i religious leaders, particularly non-Iraqis (like all but one of the country's resident grand ayatullahs). These leaders were only saved when tribesmen loyal to them forced al-Sadr's followers to back down.
Al-Sadr is a fervent nationalist, albeit with a Shi'i bent, unlike his main rivals in the Supreme Council who maintain close ties with Iran and the United States. It's hypocritical of the SIIC to talk about a national "law" when its own paramilitary, the Badr Corps, continues to be armed and independent of the central government. In addition, Badr Corps paramilitaries dominate the Interior Ministry and have probably been key perpetrators in the random murders of Sunni Arabs throughout mixed regions in Iraq. They were also probably at the forefront of the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad, which was once a heavily mixed city of Sunni and Shi'i Arabs, Kurds, Turcoman, and Arab Christians and a small Arab Jewish community. Today the city is an estimated 75% Shi'i Arab as Sunnis and Christians have come under increasing pressure, often violent, to leave once mixed neighborhoods. The Shi'i Arab parties have largely been triumphalist following their rise to power and bear a great deal of responsibility, together with foreign and Iraqi Sunni militants, for destroying Iraq.

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